Building “Smart Societies” – A Blueprint for Action

Smart Society | n. A society in which digital technology, thoughtfully deployed by governments, improves three broad outcomes: the well-being of people, the strength of the economy, and the effectiveness of institutions.

There are multiple archetypal journeys towards “smartness.” In a world with limited resources, the ability to prioritize and identify areas of focus and forms of “smartness” that fit with each country’s circumstances can prove to be essential. How “smart” a society is should be measured in terms of the outcomes that policymakers and other key decision-makers are aiming for, the progress they have made, and the gaps they need to close; in this, technology is a means to those ends.

Some of the most digitally advanced countries are also ones where governments play an essential role in promoting the use of technology widely across society. Policymakers keen on fostering competitive, digitally advanced societies would do well to go beyond traditional reactive approaches—of simply responding to technological changes—to a proactive stance of envisioning the desired societal outcomes and investing in appropriate digital technologies to realize these positive outcomes.

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To explore this issue, we at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, in collaboration with Microsoft Digital, launched an initiative with the following questions as the guiding framework:

  1. What are smart societies, and what are their core components?
  2. Are there countries that might offer realistic models for such societies?
  3. Are there patterns of different approaches to smartness reflecting different contexts, histories, and societal priorities?
  4. What are the implications for policy makers, technologists, and bureaucrats, particularly as they consider digital technology—whose applications are growing at an accelerated pace—as a lever for getting to “smartness”?

To answer these questions, we began with a simple premise: Neither “smartness” nor “technology” is the end goal. A smart society ought to be defined by a framework that is based on outcomes. Its building blocks are what governments and policy makers aim to provide for their people. The technology is just a way to get there.

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Contact Juli Hanscom
Email: Juli.Hanscom@tufts.edu
Phone: 617.627.6814